Neo-Fascist Beaten to a Pulp as Italy’s Dark Past Roils Campaign

Italians go to the polls on March 4 with voters divided over the country’s relationship with the European Union, taxes and immigration. Here’s your daily guide to the latest news.

The regional leader of a neo-fascist party was assaulted, a far-left activist stabbed, and a memorial to policemen murdered by Marxist radicals was daubed with a swastika and threatening graffiti. 

A string of violent episodes yesterday cast a shadow over the campaign just 10 days before the vote. For older Italians, the headlines served as a reminder of the dark days of the 70s and 80s when Italy was rocked by hundreds of killings, bombings and kidnappings by politically-motivated groups.

Violence has already marred this election when the grisly murder of a young woman in central Italy, apparently by a Nigerian drug dealer, sparked a drive-by shooting of immigrants earlier this month.

Roberto Fiore, leader of Forza Nuova, said his party will continue campaigning despite the attack on its regional organizer in Sicily and insisted the immigrant attack was “unforgivable.” “What have I got to do with that? I'm not Hitler,” he said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. “I was never a Nazi. But Fascist, yes.” 

Extremist parties have more rallies planned for this weekend. 

Supporters of far-right leader Massimiliano Ursino, who was seriously injured in yesterday’s attack.
Photographer: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

The Italian establishment is closing ranks. As John Follain reports, President Sergio Matterella won’t ask the populist Five Star Movement to form a government unless it secures an unexpected majority – even though it’s set to be the biggest single party. 

Former President Giorgio Napolitano gave a ringing endorsement of center-left Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. But Gentiloni – a reassuring presence for investors and fellow European leaders – saw his chances of staying in power recede yesterday with both Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi, Gentiloni’s party chief, ruling out another grand coalition. 

Italy’s humongous debt is one thing investors don’t have to worry about – at least in the short term. I’ve done a piece on how careful management by the Treasury means its 2.3 trillion euros of liabilities should be protected from volatility following the vote. 

Quote of the day:
“There’s too much silence on this. The Mafia can influence the institutions and politics.” Interior minister Marco Minniti on the threat of organized crime 

Other candidates are scrambling for votes, but Berlusconi canceled two campaign rallies yesterday. Il Mattino reported that his daughter Marina asked the 81-year-old not to push himself too hard. But you have to wonder: Is he losing steam or does he think he has victory in the bag? His coalition was eight points up before the polling blackout. 

Czech models in political ads is an embarrassing revelation for Northern League leader Matteo Salvini – his campaign is supposed to be all about putting Italy first. 

Who’s tweeting: Berlusconi says that, sure, he can’t be prime minister but he is “more than happy to be the coach. I think I am more effective from the touchline.” 

In case you missed it: Berlusconi is on a hiring spree, most Italians still have to reap the benefits of the economic recovery, and Rome’s embattled mayor scored a rare victory.

— With assistance by John Follain, and Chiara Remondini

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